Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Skating Through Winter 

A little downtown skate.

For most of my life skating meant only one thing: hockey. As an adult I've moved on from late night shinny and pickup games that required an hour of driving for 45 minutes of ice time and a following day of barely being able to lift my feet, to more leisurely skates. Skating now is that more civil activity of circularly striding around a rink or trail until the cold has taken hold and your body has told you it's time to move on. Still, the glide, the breeze and especially the sounds are very nice. That scraping of blades on the ice reverberating and echoing around you is so evocative of childhood winters. The skating in circles, while repetitive, does remind me of those occasional school trips where a busload of us would be driven to the rink and told to skate dutifully around while perhaps the worst speaker system in the world blared some fuzzy Bay City Rollers. For those of us who played hockey it was a fun moment to skate circles around school bullies who inexplicably didn't play hockey (most likely due to some economic disadvantage). Even better for me, as I, for reasons still unknown, could skate backwards almost better than forwards, now had a chance to impress the most unimpressionable prettiest girls in our class. Oh yes reader, I played it cool. I would stride around letting my teammates whiz by, then with the simplest of spins, cruise easily around the bend, building speed with every crossover, then overtake Alison, Kim, Gina or Tina, and looking back at them say with an easy grin and head tilt, "hi, I think you're skating the wrong way." before hearing a resolute teacher yell, "Mister Rogers! Please, turn around!", "Yes, miss" I'd say and swoop past that one girl who'd falsely protest, "Hey, watch it, show-off!" then in a gentlemanly and quiet manner offer, "oh I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you." At which point I would pick up enough speed to lap my clumsier classmates and glide along side her and say, "You again, didn't I just see you here?" I think I could elicit a giggle. Here, on the ice I was as confident and pithy as any Jane Austin paramour. Off the ice, I had nothing and would return to doodling in the back of my Hilroy notebook. Innocent times. I still take pleasure in some, though not as much, love of the ice. I see it in others too. We're not the brash ones. We're the ones holding back and making space for kiddos that might fall, who then decide to lie there looking up at the clouds. Trust me, we want to break free but we'll put our hands behind our backs and slip into an easy floating pace.

My skating needs work though and it's been years since I've had my skates sharpened properly. At a rink, where they grind so many blades they possibly could do it in their sleep and can tell you how many more sharpenings you can expect before you'll have to change the blades. One old guy handed back my skates saying "You must play D." I laughed and agreed and asked how he knew. He jerked his head back a bit and said something about the scuffs on the toes. On those particular skates, I'd had three different sets of blades attached. I had cracked the plastic blade holder twice and the last set that had been attached were actually slightly too big for my small boot. The part of the boot where I stopped lacing and tied my skates, was splitting. There was a time I skated so often that I was attuned to a good sharpening and knew a bad one the second I touched the ice (well anyone would know a bad one). Sometimes, I'd wait for the attendant I liked and get him to sharpen them. At city rinks they charged $5, now since doubled. One of the best sharpenings I had was by this young woman who could’ve easily been mistaken for a teenager. She was working in the canteen at the Forest Hill rink. I asked if anyone was around doing skates and she nodded and took them. Then she walked to the room with the setup and told me to come back in a few minutes. I was a little surprised (I know, I know) but did as instructed. Once I had everything on but my shoulder and elbow pads, I went out and collected my skates and thanked her. Stepping on the ice I was amazed. I still remember to this day how perfect the tips of the blades were. It felt like it increased my stride length considerably. Unfortunately, I never saw her at the rink again. She was like a selkie of Celtic lore. Was she real or imagined?

Still you can't blame your tools or so I'm told, and my skating has deteriorated more from not skating than from dull blades. I'm not sure I'll ever skate as much as I used to. Even if there was a surplus of rinks in Toronto, the weather to keep them viable is less and less predictable. Maybe Toronto will become like parts of Europe, or Ottawa, where skating on ponds, canals and waterways has become rare, rather than an expected seasonal thing. Then I can blame the rust on my blades on climate change instead of my laziness, which I guess is little like blaming the couch for the reason I'm lying on it.

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